Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1792-1875) American revivalist, educator, and reformer, known as the "Father of Modern Revivalism." After a religious conversion experience in 1824, he rejected his training as a lawyer to become a Presbyterian minister (later he joined the Congregationalists). In 1835, Finney published Lectures on Revivals of Religion , which has remained the principal text of revivalists into the twentieth century. A professor of theology, he became President of Oberlin College in 1851, leaving in 1865 and continuing revival efforts at his Broadway Tabernacle in New York City. Finney's revivalistic travels took him throughout the East Coast and Great Britain.

Finney's legacy to urban revivalism was an ethos "to use any means to stir religious enthusiasms" as well as know-how for conducting a revival (Lectures ). He believed that the primary calling of the revivalist was to win souls for the Lord, hence new means were more than justified. These included setting aside a period of days for protracted meetings, using the "anxious bench" (where those wishing to be saved would sit during a meeting), praying for sinners by name, and prayer meetings lasting all night. His church also permitted women to offer prayer publicly. Most important, he rejected formalistic preaching discourse for a colloquial and dramatic appeal to believers' enthusiasms. Sermons were injected with common sense and examples based on cause and effect. Signaling a shift toward religious volunteerism, individuals were free to choose salvation. His personal success with spirit-led preaching and the new revivalist practices were criticized by his Presbyterian Church for permitting fanaticism and spiritual wildfire. As his theology developed, he rejected both old school and new school Presbyterian precepts to rely on personal Bible study and his own experiences, probably shaped by the philosophy of Common Sense Realism influential in nineteenth-century America.

See also Televangelism

Razelle Frankl


C. Finney, Memoirs (New York: Barnes, 1876)

R. Frankl, Televangelism (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987)

J. Hadden, "Religious Broadcasting and the New Christian Right," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 26(1987):1-24

K. J. Hardman, Charles Grandison Finney (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1987)

G. A. Hewitt, Regeneration and Morality (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Carlson, 1991)

W. McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism (New York: Ronald Press, 1959)

W. McLoughlin, Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978)

H. C. Trumbull, My Four Religious Teachers (Philadelphia: Sunday School Times, 1903).

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